Mason and dixon

Kathryn Hume

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon calls the colonial William Slothrop “the fork in the road America never took,” a road that would have been kinder both to people who were powerless and to the land. With Mason & Dixon, Pynchon explores that colonial period as the time in which the decisions were made that sent America down the wrong road. His symbol for these values, decisions and consequences is the surveying project carried out by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon (1763–67). To settle the rival claims of the Penns and the Calverts over the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, these surveyors cut a line eight or nine yards wide straight through the wilderness along latitude 39° 43′ 20″. This line created colony borders and ownership; damaged the plants, beasts and people whose territory it had been; and came to signify the divide between slave-holding colonies and those that banned slavery. Pynchon focuses on slavery more than the horrors of Indian-killing because Mason and Dixon's line defined the political oppositions of the new country and figured prominently in the Civil War a century later. Mason & Dixon will seem highly fragmented, information-dense, and full of frustratingly incomplete lines in dialogues. A 773-page book that scorns coherence does make heavy demands on its audience, so in addition to wondering how to read it, one can ask why Pynchon should have constructed his storyworld in this fashion. This chapter will sketch one way to approach reading the novel – the how – by visualizing the text as layers of material and as networks of connected points. The why behind these images lies in Pynchon's sense that layering and connecting amplify power – for good or bad purposes – and his way of amplifying power here intensifies non- material, spiritual reality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781139019866
ISBN (Print)9780521769747
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'Mason and dixon'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this